FIFA 23's Ultimate Team mode will follow previous games by including loot boxes, EA have confirmed. In the past few years, several studies have linked loot boxes with gambling, and several European countries have moved to regulate them. In a statement given to Eurogamer, EA said that Ultimate Team packs are "a part of FIFA that players love" and that "Giving players the choice to spend if they want to is fair."
"We wholeheartedly believe that Ultimate Team and FUT Packs, which have been part of the game for more than a decade, are a part of FIFA that players love - fans love that the game reflects the real-world excitement and strategy of building and managing a squad. Giving players the choice to spend if they want to is fair," reads the statement from EA.
"It's worth saying that spending is entirely optional in our game, and we do not encourage spending over earning rewards through game play. FUT Packs work in just the same way whether they are paid for or earned, and most players don't spend in game at all. For example, nine out of 10 FUT Packs opened in FIFA 22 were earned."
In 2020, a report by the UK House Of Lords recommended the government should regulate loot boxes, following a study by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which found that players who paid for loot boxes "may be more likely to experience gambling, mental health, financial and problem gaming-related harms." The government announced last month that they would not amend the Gambling Act to cover loot boxes, but called on the games industry to do more to self-regulate. European countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands have already legislated against loot boxes, although earlier this year a Dutch court ruled loot boxes weren't gambling and overturned a fine given to EA.
EA's statement is technically accurate when it says that FUT packs, the FIFA series' most prominent loot boxes, are "entirely optional", but there's no doubt that the game strongly incentivises buying them. They're the easiest way to get better players or other resource cards, both of which are essential if you want to win or otherwise have fun in online FUT matches. Recent FIFA games have made concessions by allowing players to peek at the contents of FUT packs, with limitations, before they pay.
I suspect EA fighting to keep the feature has less to do with it being "fair" that players can choose to spend, and more to do with Ultimate Team modes across EA Sports games earning $1.62 billion (around £1.32 billion) in 2021, or 29% of EA's total revenue for the year.